Author - Jerry Paxton

Logitech G700 Gaming Mouse – A Review (Hardware)

Logitech has always been a friend of the PC gamer – releasing several iterations of PC gaming peripherals over the last twenty years or so. Its latest ‘G-series’ of gaming peripherals offers their most robust array of features yet. The gaming mouse component of this new series is the G700 Gaming Mouse. Looking like something from their more business-oriented MX series, the G700 offers an impressive array of features.

Looking like something from their MX series of business/personal use mice, the G700 features an all-black, heavy plastic body with a chrome-clad mouse wheel. A very impressive mouse in the looks department, the G700 does not have a ton of lights blinging out from every direction. It is, in fact, a very classy-looking gaming mouse.

The black plastic around the main mouse buttons is smooth and features a small silver Logitech logo. The side plastic parts of the mouse body are have been ruggedized with a very effective friction-generating texture. This means you will not lose your grip on the unit while playing. From a ‘feel’ standpoint, the G700 is exceptional.

The mouse comes packed with a USB extender cable, a USB power/interface cable, and Logitech’s small, Nano-Receiver which will allow you to use the G700 in its wireless mode. Installing the mouse is very simple – just plug either the Nano-Receiver or the USB cable (mouse connected) into the PC and watch it go. If you want to unlock the full feature-set of the unit, you will need to install the SetPoint software package. These extra features are well worth the installation, as the G700 has 13 programmable buttons lining its body, as well as three programmable sensitivity presets which can be accessed on-the-fly.

After we got everything installed and setup, we began running the mouse through games of Left 4 Dead 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and World of Warcraft. The G700 performed very well, with two quirks worth mentioning. First is that, while the thumb buttons on the G700 are very useful for assigning functions to, they are far too low on the mouse body to avoid being accidentally clicked by a larger thumb. I found myself accidentally depressing the two bottom thumb buttons of the four button-array several times over the course of the more frantic action found in the two FPS titles that were used in testing.

In World of Warcraft, we did not experience this issue at all.Eventually, I just disabled the thumb buttons when playing the shooter titles to avoid the problem. The G700 seems more ideally-suited for MMORPG usage, where its comfort and smooth glide will keep you gaming for hours, comfortably.

The second quirk of the G700 is its sensor alignment. Being a clutch mouse-user (that is, resting my palm on the mouse body), moving the unit on the yaw axis of my wrist should yield a horizontal cursor-sweep. On the G700, a yaw movement yields a diagonal cursor sweep. This is because the unit’s laser sensor (at least on our review unit) is slightly off center when held in a clutch fashion. It should be noted, that claw-usage (palm off the mouse body) is not possible on the G700 due to the exposed thumb buttons and recessed thumb rest for comfort. While not a deal-breaker, this second quirk definitely takes some getting used too.

Ending on a positive note, gamers will experience some of the smoothest glide-action they have ever felt in a gaming mouse before with the G700. It has much larger Teflon-coated pads on its bottom than most gaming mouse sport, and this is very apparent when gaming. Also of benefit to gamers is that while on wireless mode, the G700 runs off of one replaceable, included, and rechargeable AA battery.

The Logitech G700 gaming mouse hosts a very impressive array of features. While its $99.99 dollar price point may not be cheap, its closest competitor is thirty dollars more expensive. While not perfect, Logitech has made a very solid gaming mouse (especially got MMORPG players) that, so long as you heed the quirks we have mentioned, should serve you well for years to come.

Razor2: Hidden Skies – A Review (PC)

Most people that grew up on gaming in the 90’s are probably familiar to the ‘shmup’ style of gaming. The game sets you off story-wise in the midst of a nameless, faceless battle against a nameless, faceless group. You take the position of a pilot in the midst of a war of some sort; you get the point. It’s a basic setup for the ‘shmup’-style game. The story is not the strong point of this game, but that’s given due to the style. Style is where RAZOR2 should shine…

That being said, the style of the game is great… if we were living fifteen years in the past. While the nostalgia factor is fun, it fades quickly, and leaves you with a remorseful feeling of something along the lines of: ‘I spent $10 on this game, so what do I do now?’ The fun can only carry for so long, and without two strong legs of a story, the game relies mainly on its mechanics and fun music to pull you through the rest of the missions.

While the story rates as sub-par to nonexistent, the gameplay shines like a supernova. It’s upbeat and racy, which is extremely enjoyable for some people. If button mashing is your thing, this game has a lot of that in store for you. If racing around a screen in a ship is also your thing, this game is for you. If you don’t appreciate the former or the latter, then this game just flat out isn’t for you. It has some very fun moments, but the gameplay also some fairly large negative aspects as well.

There are minor flaws in the controls to this game. In terms of maneuvering the craft, the default keys for movement were set to the arrow keys, and it was awkward at first, but then became bearable. Switching between Team Fortress 2 and RAZOR2 was difficult, though, being so used to the famed WASD keyboard setup. The mouse is not involved at all, which was a bit surprising as well. A fun fact, however, is that key binds are stackable, so if you see it to be necessary, there can just be one button that destroys everything instantaneously.

The gameplay in terms of combat is adequate, if not a bit messy at times. The screen will become so overcome with fire sometimes (especially at boss battles) that it will be hopeless to even attempt to maneuver past enemy fire. It’s understandable as a difficulty thing, but it was still annoying at times to find that my screen had become overrun by small lasers and rockets to the point that my vessel wasn’t even maneuverable.

One of the better gameplay features in RAZOR2 is the upgrade system, albeit navigation to it. By killing enemy ships, having good accuracy, and finishing the mission in time, credits are awarded. Also, after a certain number of missions, you ‘rank up’, earning another cache of points. These points are then used to purchase shiny new upgrades for your ship, which will help you in future missions. As the enemies get tougher, so does your ship. The upgrades range from more ammunition to better shields to more energy to faster and stronger weapons. All around, it’s a nicely ‘polished’ (I say that cautiously) system.

Graphics and Sound:
The graphics to this game are reprehensibly horrible, and the blame lies with the developers, INVENT4 Entertainment. Understandably, if the graphics are part of the ‘immersion’ or ‘throwback’ to 90’s ‘shmup’ games, then that will make this section irrelevant.

Having blocky, pixelated textures made the game feel awkward, especially while in the loading bay for upgrading my ship. When looking at my craft, I saw a brick, not a glorious space vessel that had just taken on a wave of five hundred or so enemies. It didn’t contribute to any of the affect of the game, and for a game without a story, there is the expectation for the graphics and gameplay to compensate for it.

For a game with low-quality graphics, however, it sure did suck up a lot of CPU cycles. While in the first mission of the game, when enemies suddenly swarmed on-screen, my computer actually began to lag. This lead to the belief that the game was poorly optimized, or something of the sort, because hardware-wise, my PC is a fair beast to be sure. Aside from minor stalls and hiccups, the gameplay was smooth and breezy.

Taking out two birds with one stone, as they’re both under the menus, there are the fonts and voice-overs. Unmistakably, the voice-overs are provided by Microsoft Anna. I’d love to leave it at that, but it gets worse. ‘She’ provides annoying (not to mention useless) intel throughout a whole mission. This tends to leave the player hearing a monotonous voice droning on and on about superfluous details that they don’t care about, especially for ‘shmup’. Then, the fonts, which are nigh unreadable. Navigating the menus in this game is easy once you’ve adjusted to them, but for someone just starting, it will be hard to find your way around them.

Ending on a good note, one good quality to this game is its music. Upbeat and heroic, the soundtrack to this game is by far the best out of the graphics and sound department – truly a pleasure to listen to. The biggest problem with the game audio was the Microsoft Anna voice-overs coming in and interrupting the music. Thankfully, there was an option to mute the voice-overs via an audio slider.

Final Thoughts:
All in all, I wouldn’t call RAZOR2: Hidden Skies a ‘bad’ game. A more fitting word is ‘misplaced’. Misplaced, in that it’s fifteen years past its prime, and fifteen years past its graphical threshold. If it were 1995, I’m sure that this game would have succeeded. Unfortunately, in a day and age where people expect fully-functional products with all the bells and whistles, RAZOR2 flounders. It lacks an enticing story, which is generally necessary for a strictly single-player game, as well as smashing graphics. The Microsoft Anna voice-overs also serve as a detriment, pulling the game further down the quality ladder. There are well-formed ideas, the game shows that it’s just bare-bones, with nothing else to truly offer, aside from a nostalgic feeling that passes five minutes into gameplay.

RAZOR2: Hidden Skies is available on Steam for $10. There is also a demo available for anyone who wishes to try before buying.

Third Part in Sordahon’s Journey Web Series

SouthPeak Games has released a new video adventure in the life of Two Worlds II’s #2 evil antagonist, Sordahon. In this part of the ongoing web series, Sordahon is at the psychiatrist’s office seeking advice on if SouthPeak and Two Worlds II is the right place for him to be. Two Worlds II is an upcoming RPG from SouthPeak and is due out this October.

Kane and Lynch 2 Character Vignette Trailers

IO Interactive and Square Enix have released two new character vignette trailers for their upcoming shooter, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. The game is due out on August 17th across North America and will again see the unlikely duo taking on insane odds – this time, in Shanghai.

Here is Kane’s vignette, and you can find Lynch’s, After the Break!

StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty – A Review (PC)

If Command and Conquer founded the modern real-time strategy genre, it was StarCraft which revolutionized it. Originally released back in 1998, the game brought several elements to the table which have become RTS staples – for instance, the use of telling the game’s story through the use of three separate faction campaigns. Also important was its riveting story and incredibly beautiful cut-scenes to bring it to life. Before StarCraft, the most story we got in an RTS was some badly-done full-motion video (known as ‘FMV’ back then) or some cheesy splash images with which to garner the plot from. It has been twelve years since StarCraft was released and now Blizzard Entertainment has let loose the sequel, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty.

The story of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty takes place four years after the events of the StarCraft expansion: Brood War. At the beginning of the story, we find Tychus Findley being released from cryo-prison and Jim Raynor living on a backwater planet where he is leading a resistance movement against the corrupt Terran Dominion. Soon these characters cross paths again, and, without spoiling anything, they must save the human race from annihilation.

The overall tone and themes of this part of the StarCraft 2 trilogy (the other two are said to focus on the Protoss and Zerg campaigns) has been heavily-inspired by the Joss Whedon TV series, Firefly. From the Western-style musical score and cowboy drawls to the overall look of the characters and technology; Wings of Liberty is a hoot to watch unfold and will have you quipping in Chinese more than once (gorram Zerg!). Thankfully, the themes were only inspired by the Firefly universe. The only things taken directly from other IPs are actually from other Blizzard IPs (and maybe a Star Wars reference or two). Players with a sharp eye will definitely see a lot of references to both World of Warcraft and Diablo.

The most revolutionary thing about StarCraft 2 is the way it presents its single player campaign. It’s not that the multiplayer is not fun or the Battle.NET integration is not seamless – that it is all true. However, when you look at the most clever things done in the game, you have to look at the single player experience. The multiplayer seems more or less like it was built for the tournament players out there and doesn’t bring a lot of innovation to what was already laid out in the original StarCraft. However, the hardest thing for a real-time strategy title to do is tell a single player story as so much of these types of games is spent looking down at the battlefield, detached, from on high.

In StarCraft 2, Blizzard has managed to suck players into the experience through the use of a gameplay mechanic once seen in Origin Systems incredible Wing Commander series. Between missions, you will be able to hit various locations based on your current base of operations and interact with objects and characters by clicking on them with your mouse. These can simply be random objects with some story significance or important plot items that give some additional backstory to an upcoming event. Additionally, you will sometimes be forced to choose between two characters or choices which will affect the outcome of your available missions or force disposition.

One entertaining device used throughout many of these inter-mission sequences is a news network broadcast on the television screen in the cantina. The pro-government news anchor is just begging for a Holly McClane punch to the face.

More importantly, you get the opportunity to direct your forces by way of an Armory, Laboratory, and Cantina! In these rooms you will be able to hire mercenary forces that can be deployed on-world, purchase new abilities for your units and structures, or even research new technology options which are paid for in research points found during missions. There is a TON of customization and decision-making to be found here, and it gives the player a direct role in the outcome of his or her military. It makes sense, given that your character is Jim Raynor, leader of the resistance and whatnot.

Furthermore, Blizzard has added the ability for players to, in many cases, choose their next mission from a few options – each with their own rewards and perks! When you sum up all of these additions, you are left with one pretty awesome game. The word ‘awesome’ is generally not considered a very urbane adjective by most highbrows out there, but it is more than applicable in this case.

StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty will have you on the edge of your seat the whole way through – one minute you will be listening to one of the in-house Blizzard bands on the cantina jukebox and the next you will be eating concertina wire and pissing napalm while fighting an army of Hydralisks.

In short: Get this game now. That is all. Dismissed!

Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset – A Review (PC)

Gaming headsets are a dime a dozen these days – it seems like every manufacturer has some headset they market to the gaming crowd. Most are just general-use models with some flashy marketing. So, when we hear about a headset-maker who is genuinely trying to do something revolutionary, we take notice. Enter: The Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset from Psyko Audio Labs.

The Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset is a true surround sound headset. Unlike virtual surround sound models, the Psyko 5.1 actually features seven speakers mounted throughout the unit. Five of the sound drivers are meant for the surround sound channels and are mounted in the head band. The other two drivers are the sub-woofers and are located in the lower part of the ear cups. The price for all of these speakers comes in terms of added weight. The Psyko 5.1 headset is easily the most weighty headset I have ever used outside of aircraft-grade models. Thankfully, Psyko Audio Labs has put a lot of foam padding around the unit in an attempt to soften it as much as possible.

As previously-mentioned, the surround sound drivers are located in the top of the headband, leaving the question of how they get the sound from the headband down to your ears where it belongs. This is where the real magic of the Psyko 5.1 lies and how they recreate the ‘perfect room’ or audio ‘sweet spot’, which is the bane of many audiophiles’ existences. In short, the ‘sweet spot’ is the exact location in a surround sound system where all the speakers and sounds are exactly the same distance from the listener, ensuring a perfect balance of incoming sound channels. This spot is very hard to obtain and even more difficult when several people are attempting to enjoy the surround sound – obviously, some folks just wont be able to get the sweet spot – concessions need to be made. With the Psyko 5.1, they recreate this audio holy grail by funneling surround sound down from the headband via ‘waveguides’ which then output the sound in the proper direction from your ear. This means that the rear sound channel waveguides output the sound behind your ears, giving your body the chance to locate the sound as nature intended, instead of through the use of some virtual surround system.

For the gamers out there, this means that sound input will be accurately delivered to their ears in order to give them an additional edge while playing against their foes, virtual or real. Setting up the Psyko 5.1 is very simple. You plug the four input jacks into the included, external amp unit and then connect the cables coming out of the amp into the 5.1 surround sound outputs on your PC. Technically, the Psyko could be used with any audio source providing the four surround sound outputs, but there are certain aspects of the Psyko amp which make this unwise.

Confused on if you have plugged everything in correctly? On the external amp unit, there is an array of channel-specific LEDs. As sound is pushed out through the 5.1 channels, these lights will brighten and dim with the volume of the sound per channel. So, if you need to test a particular channel you will know rather quickly if you plugged everything in correctly.

Psyko Audio Labs has intended this for gamers. In speaking with their CEO, James Hildebrandt, the company has used the external amp to enhance the sound frequencies most found in first-person shooter titles. These are apparently not the best sound frequencies for movie watching or album listening. The company’s motto for this product is ‘The Dawn of Audio as A Weapon’, and it holds true. Do not buy these if you are not a gamer, they will simply be an incorrect fit for your needs.

I only found two things off-putting about the headset. First, was its weight, which after several hours of play began to bother the top of my head – even with the cushions provided. The second thing that threw me off was the lack of an auxiliary speaker output on the amp. If your PC is located on the ground like mine, you have to reach under there and swap out the headset plugs with your general-use system for movies and music. If I could just have the general speakers plugged into the amp along with the headset (maybe have a toggle to go back and forth between outputs) – it would be a lot more convenient. At least the earcups are ventilated, which helps not make your ears all sweaty after long hours at play. However, this also means that sound can be heard by people around you – so, if communications secrecy is a concern you may want to watch who is standing next to you.

I put the Psyko 5.1 through its paces over a few weeks (save for the week of Comic-Con) full of games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Armed Assault 2: Operation Arrowhead, and a few others I am sure I am just forgetting at the moment. The channel separating in the games supporting 5.1 sound was incredible and definitely gave me an additional layer of situational awareness not found in the general-use headset I usually employ while gaming.

Left 4 Dead 2 was an especially eerie play-through, as that is an experience where the audio can be just as scary as the zombies intent on eating your flesh and sucking the marrow from your fractured bones! After setting up the Psyko 5.1, I could make out zombies scampering about all around me – especially when they start horde runs. The experience of hearing the sound being picked up by your ears from the actual direction it should be coming from was alarming to say the least.

Putting the CEO’s advice to the test, I did attempt to watch a few movies and listen to a few albums on my PC. The experience was definitely something I would not recommend as the equalizer was simply not right for those uses.

At $299, the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset will undoubtedly turn some folks off. It is a very pricey investment for a headset that is not a great fit for movie or music use. However, this is not for casual folk. This headset is for gamers and in a world of ‘for-gamer’ products which, in reality are anything but, the Psyko 5.1 headset is an exceptional work of audio art that is certain to give you the edge whether it be in single or multiplayer game sessions. Game on!

DCS A-10 Teaser Trailer Released

You may remember the Q&A we did with game producer Matt Wagner on the upcoming flight simulator, DCS A-10 Warthog from DCS and The Fighter Collection. If not, get to reading! If so, however, then feast your eyes on the official teaser trailer for the sim, which is due out later this year.

Two Worlds 2: Sordahon’s Journey Parts 1 and 2

The awesome folks over at SouthPeak Interative have released two clever little videos promoting their upcoming RPG, Two Worlds 2. Titled, Sordahon’s Journey, this web series chronicles the path of game antagonist Sordahon as he attempts to find his own way. Two Worlds 2 is due out on September 14th across North America.

Checkout Part One below and Part Two (featuring an actress I recall from TV series Nash Bridges), after the break!

Part Two:

Dragon Age 2 Hands-On Preview from the 2010 San Diego Comic Con

Over the weekend at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, I was able to get some hands-on time with BioWare’s upcoming Dragon Age 2. According to Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw, up until the beginning of the convention on Wednesday, only 11 people outside of the team had seen the game, so it was a real treat to check it out.

Before getting to play the demo which had been setup for the show, Laidlaw gave about a ten minute introduction to Dragon Age 2, including talking about some of the most significant changes since the original. The BioWare team developing the sequel first looked at Dragon Age: Origins after its release, including forum and reviewer feedback. From there, they went on to discuss if these suggestions/changes were something they would implement in the sequel… (cont.)

Read the rest of our Dragon Age 2 preview from the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, head After the Break!
(cont.) After much hashing out, they decided that Dragon Age 2 would be a far more epic experience, where players would feel like they were controlling a party of ‘badasses’. Additionally, Laidlaw admitted that Dragon Age: Origins was ‘not great’, visually-speaking. To this, he made note of the re-designed overall visual style of the sequel, which would enable their upgraded game engine to pump out a lot more detail at the same frames per second. Again, We had not seen the game up to this moment – he had only been showing us charts and slides highlighting his topics.

Laidlaw then went on to announce that Dragon Age 2 would feature a new combat system. Gone would be the Frankenstein-like transitions between character movements, replaced by what was claimed to be a far more fluid system of control, character animation, and fighting. Interestingly, Laidlaw mentioned that Dragon Age 2 would not leave the tacticians out of the mix either – he noted that they want players to ‘think like a general and fight light a Spartan’. This means that queuing up actions would still be present (which made me, as a PC gamer, breathe a bit easier).

Something even more impressive, is that Dragon Age 2 will give the player much more of a ‘voice’ and really show off the results of his or her decisions and actions. The dialogue engine is actually capable of handling up to 10 different conversation choices – 4 more than Dragon Age: Origins! The game would also be told in a ‘frame narrative’ style, a story within a story, if you will. This will allow the game to cover a MUCH longer period of time than the original – a whole decade, to be precise!

The player’s character is named ‘Hawke’, and he is a survivor of the Darkspawn destruction of Lothering, a civilian town. Hawke ends up a refugee who escapes to the North – ten years later, Hawke is the ‘Champion of Kirkwall’ and also a ‘very prominent figure in the country’. One small problem, however, and that is that things have gone seriously wrong and now the people’s are again on the brink of war and Hawke (and his party) are the only ones who can fix things.

Different than Dragon Age: Origins, where players had multiple characters to choose from, Hawke is more of a fixed character in terms of name and origin – however, an unspecified length into the game, the player will be able to customize Hawke by deciding on a class, etc.

After talking about all the changes to the sequel, Laidlaw fired up the Xbox 360-based demo. Visually, characters looked A LOT more crisp and detailed than in Dragon Age: Origins. The graphical changes are very apparent, as is the new combat system…

I must admit, watching the combat initially, I was a bit concerned over the hack-and-clash style combat until the developer who was demoing the game hit the radial command menu, which allowed him to queue up actions for both Hawke and his companion, a female mage of some sort. After he performed some queuing, it was back to the fast-paced combat. It was just delightful to see Darkspawn giblets flying about everywhere. Blood was a major theme, both in figuratively and literally, in the first game and it looks like they are continuing this in the sequel – lots and lots of the red stuff flying about here.

Hawke’s melee swings could chop down several enemies at the same time while the mage had some very cool attacks of her own. She could stun an enemy, holding him in mid-air, then pretty much make him explode… VERY. COOL.

In fact, magic users will be very pleased to find out that they will also be getting those awesome fatality-style movements warriors so often received. In the demo, the mage pulled off a wicked finisher on the obligatory Ogre which joined the fray. Laidlaw mentioned that your party members would no longer just be ‘sacks of hit points’, but really formidable opponents in their own right.

After some this combat, a dialog sequenced opened up with Hawke and his companion. As I previously mentioned, not only is the dialogue system able to handle up to ten conversation choices, but BioWare is also adding a central icon to the dialogue choice wheel, which will display the general tone of the message you would convey with that choice. For instance, peaceful options would show and olive branch while aggressive choices would show a red clenched-fist. This is handy as, in Dragon Age: Origins, sometimes the context of your dialogue choice was not always apparent.

I could not help but draw a comparison between Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 2, and even what Bethsoft did with Fallout 3 in that, they are much more streamlined and action-oriented than their originals while also leaving in much of the tactical elements fans also enjoyed. While I can foresee some fans of the original game being hesitant in the changes to the overall design of Dragon Age 2, I have a lot of faith in BioWare on this one as I got the chance to play the same demo myself after the presentation ended, and found it to be VERY smooth and easy to transition back and forth between combat and the radial command menu.

Speaking to Laidlaw after my demo time was up, I asked what PC gamers could expect in regards to these control system changes. Mike responded by saying that PC gamers could expect their version of the game to be very similar to Dragon Age: Origins in terms of control (WASD, mouse, etc) but with the combat system changes found on the console versions.

I also asked if Dragon Age 2 was following the same development path as the original – being created for the PC and then split off for its console variants. Apparently, this time around they are developing the game simultaneously on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. This is being done to avoid time delays but also to make sure the experience never feels ported over from one platform to another. Each experience promises to be rewarding on its own merits.

If this demo was any indication, Dragon Age 2 is shaping up to be a juiced-up version of the original with better graphics, more blood, and a very interesting story-telling dynamic. A special thanks to Mike Laidlaw, Chris Priestly, Fernando Melo, and David Silverman of BioWare for their hospitality in granting us access to this demo.

NCAA Football 11 – A Review (Xbox 360)

One thing about the last couple NCAA Football offerings is that, while they don’t seem to have quite as much mainstream market appeal as their Madden brother, they have a sense of style all their own. Instead of over-produced, out-of-touch players and huge stadiums with 70,000 fans, you get a much more intimate and realistic experience with schools and players grounded by life’s hardships. Thankfully, NCAA Football 11 stays the course in regards to this axiom and brings a lot of fun to the table.

For starters, the game’s visuals have been taken to a new level over last year’s respectable offerings. A new lighting system as well as animation engine has brought a new level of realism to the game’s overall look and feel. As mentioned previously, NCAA Football has always have a more intimate and player/school-driven focus. In keeping with this theme, NCAA Football 11 has a greater emphasis on individual players, even adding more expression to their faces, depending on what is happening at the time. Even the in-game cuts to a team’s cheer-leading squad adds to this intimate vibe. Game audio is very well done, with cheering crowds and the crackling of shoulder pads – save for two areas: The announcers and the player chatter.

Simply put: There is no player chatter in NCAA Football 11. Your QB will call out plays, sure, but there is no dialog amongst the players themselves. A small addition like this would have added a lot to the game’s presentation. The announcers in this edition of the game are ESPN’s Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Erin Andrews. Lee Corso is not in the announcer stable this time around. They just come off a bit dull in this edition of the game. Sure, they do the job of announcing plays and keeping things general to fit with any team they are talking about, but they seem to be lacking that little something extra brought to the table by Corso.

In terms of game presentation, what will become fairly obvious early on is the integration with an ESPN college football broadcast style. Unfortunately, while the developers were obviously trying for a ‘watching the game on Saturday’ vibe, it just never feels quite 100% in that department. Game introductions follow basically the same pattern, unless your team one that has a special opening ritual, and the process just gets repetitive after a while. However, because it has some of this feel, it shoot’s itself in the proverbial foot by not being able to have the presentation of seeing the game live, at the stadium – so it ends up being a sort of hybrid in this area. This is not to say the presentation is not often times enjoyable, but it would have been nice to some clearer direction in this area.

Actually playing the game has been streamlined quite a bit by allowing players to call plays at the line of scrimmage, instead of in a huddle. This makes for a much more tactical game of maneuvering, as if one side sees the other in a specific formation, they can alter their tactics to compensate, and vice versa. Another area where the gameplay has been enhanced is in the upper-body twisting system. When running the ball towards a TD, you can control the swing of your upper-body with the controller’s right stick. Pressing forward will cause your player to charge forward, while moving it side to side allows for help in throwing off would-be interceptors. Gameplay moves along at a quick pace, with interspersed team animations and replays which come up at just the right moment. Another interesting addition to this year’s NCAA Football offering is its ‘One Button Gameplay’ mode, where you can play just about the whole darn thing with one button (more or less). This helps make the multiple control schemes a non-issue for inexperienced players, but keeps the rest of the gameplay experience for them to enjoy.

While the single-player Dynasty mode is somewhat lackluster, as it is basically the same mode offered last year, the Online Dynasty Mode has been getting a lot of attention from reviewers and players alike, as it is not just an incredible way of playing against others from around the country, but also features a multi-platform implementation that is second to none. Not only can you perform a ton of activities through the web interface, but you can also use the game’s mobile apps for your iPhone or Android devices. All of these tools at your disposal are very important, as the Online Dynasty really gives you a lot of managerial duties to perform. You even have to put together packages of incentives for prospective recruits and hope they go for yours rather than ‘the other guys’! One aspect of this game mode which really ups its social aspects is the story generator and blog elements, which help trash-talk or praise your own team or an opponent’s. This social element is all compatible with Facebook and Twitter, so you can keep your friends up-to-date on your progress.

Despite a few flaws, NCAA Football 11 is the most-fun college football title to date, with enough new offerings to keep players excited and enough of the standard stuff not to confuse everyone. If you are looking for a more raw football experience than you get in Madden, be sure to try this one out.

*DISCLOSURE: EA Sports sent us a copy of this title for review.